[Humanist] 29.911 anti-DH

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue May 3 07:07:29 CEST 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 911.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Martin Mueller <martinmueller at northwestern.edu>           (92)
        Subject: Re:  29.910 anti-DH

  [2]   From:    Don Braxton <don.braxton at gmail.com>                       (57)
        Subject: Anti-DH

  [3]   From:    { brad brace } <bbrace at eskimo.com>                        (15)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.909 promoting failures

        Date: Mon, 2 May 2016 12:17:11 +0000
        From: Martin Mueller <martinmueller at northwestern.edu>
        Subject: Re:  29.910 anti-DH
        In-Reply-To: <20160502065816.EFFAA23A6 at digitalhumanities.org>

About the LA Times piece: there is a lot to disagree with and quite a few things to agree with in this piece.  If one does not agree with the authors'point of view--as I don't, at least not with its oddly uncritical understanding of what it means to be 'critical',  the essay offers a coherent narrative. Whether DH is a good thing or a bad thing or whether it is in fact any onte thing at all, is something that I'm supposed to give a talk about a Calgary a month from now, and I must confess that I'm grateful to the three authors for their polemical survey of the field--a little like Stanley Fish's trilogy in the New York a few years ago, but very different in other respects.  

        Date: Mon, 2 May 2016 09:34:23 -0400
        From: Don Braxton <don.braxton at gmail.com>
        Subject: Anti-DH
        In-Reply-To: <20160502065816.EFFAA23A6 at digitalhumanities.org>

Cyrus and Others:

I read the article with both interest and ambiguity.

First, I would suggest that you are playing into their game (and it is a
game) by saying you prefer to leave politics at the door.  The assumption
of their argument is that everything is political including the desire to,
or actual performance of, trying to disengage with the political.  That
will be read as a neoliberal conspiracy that just makes their point.  You
are an easily diagnosed exemplar of the neoliberal attempt to pretend DH is
neutral and a hidden supporter of a (hidden?) political agenda.

Second, the argument is both more and less than what it seems.  It is more
than what it seems in the sense that it is a conspiracy theory that is
totalizing in nature.  It is colonial in the sense that it seeks to take
command of all intellectual territory, to place all culture in fact within
their own "historically situated" projects.  The project reeks of
tautology.  It is less than it seems in that it takes a relatively banal
observation - all scholarship takes place within a social-political context
and therefore has political consequences.  My reaction is quite frankly "no
s--- Sherlock".  It attempts to build mountains out of molehills.

Third, I see no reason not to say that I am indeed a member of the liberal
democratic tradition.  I regard technology as a tool of powerful
consequences.  But technology always enables and disables, and the politics
of its deployment in society comes from the purposes for which it is
designed.  There is nothing inherently oppressive or liberational in the
technology itself but rather it can facilitate oppression or liberation on
the basis of how, when, and where it is deployed.  Surely, DH
representatives are fully aware of this when they ruminate about the
Digital-Haves and the Digital-Have-Nots, or when it looks at phenomena like
the Twitter-dominated Arab Spring and or the issues associated with
surveillance/privacy applications.

Fourth, there is an elitism in the notion that the desire to produce useful
applications for a wider audience than the academy is a form of
selling-out.  It tacitly advocates that real scholarship is in the first
order for us in the academy and secondly only by us in the real
humanities.  It is therefore highly conservative and anti-democratic.  My
politics leads me to be highly suspicious of any anti-democratic and
paternalistic views of the role of the true scholar in society.

Given the circularity of the argument and its totalizing tendency, if you
are in for a dime you are in for a dollar.  So I simply turn the question
back on them and inquire into their conspiracy theory and whether it is
adequate to the full diversity of DH practice. I then discover that It is
quite superficial in my humble opinion.  But to even do that will mean that
you will be caught in an engagement with them.

Thus, perhaps the best strategy is to simply ignore them.  They seek to be
a squeaky wheel in search of more oil.  I am often disinclined to be pulled
into the endless pit of turning everything into identity politics.  But if
any readers are so inclined, have at it.  I don't think you will exit the
engagement with any satisfactory outcomes other than feeling dirty from the

Other interpretations and advice in light of this grumpy article?


Don Braxton
J Omar Good Professor of Religious Studies
Juniata College
Huntingdon, PA

        Date: Mon, 2 May 2016 15:51:17 -0700 (PDT)
        From: { brad brace } <bbrace at eskimo.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.909 promoting failures
        In-Reply-To: <20160501064254.AF9E521DA at digitalhumanities.org>

well, I'm not alone in blaming the federal arts agency:
Canada Council for blacklisting me and many others which
denied all (admittedly compromised) grants, exhibits, jobs,
reviews... I continue to promote _their dissolution/failure.



Global Islands Project:

"We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders."
-- anonymous Vietnamese poem

"The rich are only defeated when running for their lives." -- C.L.R. James


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